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Boko Haram

Mr President,
Distinguished Members of the Council,
Excellencies,

Following this Council's request that my Office document and report on Boko Haram's violations and abuses of human rights, members of our staff have swiftly deployed. Our teams have travelled to the Far North Region of Cameroon, southern Niger and the north-eastern regions of Nigeria, and will be in Chad in the coming days. In carrying out this mandate given to us by the Council, they will continue to rely on the close cooperation of all concerned States, including through facilitating full access to collect information in the field.

As requested, we will provide a full written report to the Council in September. However, it has already become clear that the violations committed by Boko Haram are extensive and far-reaching, demanding a response of commensurate magnitude.

It is encouraging to see governmental control being re-established over key areas of Nigeria. These improvements in the immediate security situation give us hope for peace, and that the authorities will be able to address the root causes of this crisis – including, as we discussed during the Special Session of this Council in April, acute underlying poverty, socio-economic deprivation and discrimination, and allegations of poor governance.

Interviews by my staff with former captives and survivors of Boko Haram attacks in northeast Nigeria indicate a pattern of vicious and indiscriminate attacks stretching back months, and even years. They include massacres; the burning down of entire villages; attacks on protected sites such as places of worship and schools, and the slaughter of people taking refuge in such sites; torture; cruel and degrading treatment following sentences in so-called "courts"; abduction on a massive scale, including of children; forced displacement; child recruitment; and extremely severe and widespread violations of the rights of women and girls, including sexual slavery, sexual violence, forced so-called "marriages", and forced pregnancy in violation of human rights and international humanitarian law principles.

Survivors in Nigeria have given my staff distressing witness accounts of gruesome mass killings of men and boys whom Boko Haram grouped together and gunned down or hacked to death with sadistic cruelty, before the female inhabitants of villages were abducted. OHCHR interviews have also confirmed that during their captivity – lasting in many cases for months or even years – women and girls have been sexually enslaved, raped and forced into so-called "marriages". Many survivors of these horrific experiences are now pregnant by their rapists. It is vital that the authorities ensure that every person who has been responsible for such crimes will be held to account in a court of law.

Over the past year, pitiless attacks on towns and villages in Cameroon, Niger and Chad have also generated terrible suffering. People have been burned to death in their own homes, beheaded, enslaved, raped, tortured, and forcibly recruited. My staff have interviewed victims and witnesses of attacks on the Niger islands of Lake Chad in April, which triggered the forced displacement of around 40,000 civilians to the cities of Bosso and Diffa, under the orders of the Niger authorities. As in Nigeria, Boko Haram fighters killed civilians, burned villages and, abducted women and children. Another Boko Haram raid in Niger two weeks ago – in which at least 38 civilians were killed in villages in the region of Diffa – and the 15 June bombings that targeted police forces in the Chadian capital, are bloody reminders that Boko Haram retains its capacity to cause significant harm.

Moreover, in most of the towns and villages that have recently been recaptured by the regional forces, Boko Haram fighters reportedly looted and burned down houses, shops and schools; destroyed hospitals and health centres and smashed water points and water systems. In several cases they methodically destroyed bridges and other infrastructure vital to people's lives and livelihoods. Coupled with the massive displacement generated by this movement, this destruction has had a major impact on the economy of the region; there are now severe food shortages, in a region that has traditionally produced crops for trade across the Sahel.

This economic impact  has been exacerbated by security measures taken by regional authorities that limit circulation – including closure of borders, banning of motorbikes, imposed curfews, seizure of truckloads of goods on the grounds that they may be intended for Boko Haram, and restrictions on access to farmland and fishing areas. Similarly, the forced displacement of 40,000 islanders in Niger, following Boko Haram attacks on several villages, has generated great hardship. These measures have sharply increased the risk of poverty for the population of the entire region. They have also generated understandable ill-feeling among the affected communities, and may ultimately contribute to support for Boko Haram.  It is vital that in the conduct of their operations, the regional security forces refrain from adding to the suffering of the people.

I am dismayed by reports that adults, and even children, who have been held captive and even enslaved by Boko Haram for months – and who have been delivered from captivity by government forces – are being subjected to detention, sometimes for lengthy periods, without charges. The case of 84 children from what was initially said to be a Boko Haram training camp in Girvidig, in Cameroon, has been a particularly shocking example. These boys, aged between 7 and 15, were apprehended by the security forces in December 2014, and were sent for evaluation by the Institut Camerounaise de l’Enfance in Maroua. Only last Friday -- after six months of detention in near-starvation conditions -- were some 30 of these children released to their families. I urge the authorities to resolve the situations of the remaining boys as swiftly as possible. We will be following up on these cases, as well as the detention of 43 adults who were arrested in Girvidig with these boys. We are also seeking to clarify the nature of this alleged Boko Haram training camp, which some witnesses describe as an ordinary Koranic school, unrelated to any Boko Haram activity or ideology.

Many women and children who had been abducted and enslaved by Boko Haram are reportedly being held for lengthy periods by Nigerian security forces, reportedly for screening and rehabilitation. My Office will be requesting access to these women and children to ensure that their needs and choices are being respected.

Many formerly captive women and young girls are pregnant, some by their rapists, and several reportedly wish to terminate these unwanted pregnancies. I note that abortion is legal in Nigeria only when the life of the woman is at risk. Human rights mechanisms have consistently called for ensuring access to safe abortion services beyond the protection of the woman's life, including in cases of rape and to preserve the health of the woman. Taking this into account, I strongly urge the most compassionate possible interpretation of the current regulations in Nigeria, to include the risk of suicide and risks to mental health for women and young girls who have suffered such appalling cruelty.

My staff have also relayed to me a number of reports indicating that security forces and local populations have viewed with deep suspicion returning Boko Haram captives, and that a very large number of apparently arbitrary arrests have taken place. In some areas, all people from the Kanuri ethnic group appear to be suspected of complicity with the movement. This heavy-handed and unjustifiable discrimination against internally displaced people and the Kanuri will damage the region's ability to revive a sense of community, with the cross-community bonds that drive prosperity and peace. The Federal Government of Nigeria and the European Union have signed a €1.5 million agreement to implement community based psychosocial support and protection services for child victims and returnees; this work is vital, and it should begin by refraining from further damage to their rights, and the rights of their families.

I must insist on the need for greater attention to human rights by both the military and the police forces in concerned countries when carrying out security operations against Boko Haram. Protection of civilians must be a paramount concern in all military operations, with respect for the strict rules of engagement that protect human rights and international humanitarian law. My Office stands ready to assist with detailed and practical training regarding non-discriminatory policing, conditions of detention, protection of civilians, the establishment of accountability mechanisms and respect for international humanitarian and human rights law. Failure to uphold these principles could jeopardize recent successes against Boko Haram, by driving more people into justifiable mistrust for the authorities.

 I am pained to note the detailed report by Amnesty International which alleged that serious human rights violations were committed by the Nigerian Military Forces. While my Office is not able to confirm these allegations, we sadly share the concerns regarding the arbitrary or discriminatory nature of many arrests in the context of the struggle against Boko Haram since 2009, and the often shocking conditions of detention in north-eastern Nigeria, including torture and lack of food or water.

Indeed, such conditions are not necessarily limited to Nigeria. My Office has also established details of 27 December 2014 raids by Cameroonian armed forces on the villages of Magdeme and Doublei in the Far North Region, following an ambush the previous day with at least one soldier killed.  The Government has claimed 70 persons were arrested, though 25 of those are now dead; allegedly a large number of those arrested died from inhumane detention conditions at the gendarmerie detention facility in Maroua. To date, my Office has found that at least 88 persons had been arrested, though other reliable sources allege a figure as high as 260. I commend the Cameroonian authorities for having launched an investigation into the deaths in custody, and I encourage them also to investigate the conduct of the armed forces in the two affected villages. 

I am also heartened by President Buhari's pledge, in his inaugural speech, that his administration will “overhaul the rules of engagement to avoid human rights violations in operations (and)... improve operational and legal mechanisms so that disciplinary steps are taken against proven human rights violations by the armed forces.” This is a strong and positive signal, and we stand ready to assist.

As the Nigerian government and regional forces continue to gain territory, I believe it is time to give proper consideration to the need for a profound policy response that is grounded in the need for accountability and reconciliation, with measures to promote socio-economic rights and improve governance. Trust must be rebuilt, and this includes trust in the authorities and between communities. The authorities must also assist women and girl survivors of Boko Haram, including encouraging their reintegration into their community, establishing accountability for sexual violence, and ensuring greater respect for women's rights. We will assist the authorities of the region in every possible way to enable their people to recover full enjoyment of their human rights. Meanwhile, Member States, donors and the UN Country Teams can and should begin focusing programmes to meet the needs of the people of the sub-region – to repair the damage caused by Boko Haram, and to ensure that such a movement can never again take hold.

ENDS

For more information and media requests, please contact please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org) or mailto:/rcolville@ohchr.orgmailto:rshamdasani@ohchr.org Cécile Pouilly (+41 22 917 9310 / cpouilly@ohchr.org)

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